The Kodály Method (and my own story)

A couple of months ago I posted about the Suzuki Method –click here to read the post. Today I’ll be looking at another method: The Kodály Method, plus my experience, along with my brother, with method books.

I want to stress one point before I start, though – everyone learns differently! Being homeschooled all my life and having four siblings has done nothing but convince me of the point. Some of us are visual learners; I personally learn best by reading rather than by listening or watching. This is true in music or in any other subject, too. Everyone learns differently. So certain teaching methods may not be the right fit for every student. I believe that to have the best learning experience possible the curriculum needs to “fitted” to the student. To stress my point-if you read the following “stories” you will see that I was definitely not a proper candidate for the Bastien Method Books, but my brother was; we learn differently.

Method books are definitely a favorite among teachers. They usually have a built-in schedule so there’s no prep required. Just type in “music method books” on and look at all the results!

I started piano lessons with the Johnson Method Books when I was five, and I was pleased as punch! I tinkled out Ode to Joy at my first recital and slowly progressed. I wasn’t really thinking for myself at that point, I don’t think I even knew who J. S. Bach was. When I was nine, I quit piano and then started piano again at age 11. When I began piano lessons for the second time, my new teacher used the Bastien Method Books. As time wore on, I was gradually learning and maturing at the same time. I began to hear real music: Bach, Chopin, and Vivaldi. I loved what I heard. I printed off classical sheet music from the internet and took them to my teacher. “Can we learn this instead of the book?” I timidly asked.
“No, you must go through the books first, that way you will already know how to play techniques within the classical pieces when you’re done with them,” my teacher responded. “You can start playing classical music only after you’re done with the method books.”
So I continued playing “Camels in the Clouds”…dreadful. All the time I wondered why I couldn’t just learn a D major scale within real music. According to my teacher, there were a lot of D major scales in classical music – enough to make you play pages of dry, exercise-like pieces just so “you will already know them you encounter them in real music.” Her argument to learning technique within “real” music was that the method book pieces were easier and were written specifically for whatever you were learning, which is true. But really?! I mean, for some, it may be beneficial to learn the very basics with a method book; but when you’re getting into difficult techniques, do you really think it’ll stay with you until you encounter it in a classical piece?  Anyway, I eventually got fed up with everything and quit taking lessons with that teacher.

Let me introduce you to my brother, Riley. He is a math and scrabble whiz, dedicated Buckeye football and basketball fan, and an awesome brother to have on your side in a debate! 🙂 But, Riley likes facts. He’s a this-is-how-it-is kind of guy, no rabbit trails, and no extra complications for him. So, when Riley began piano lessons he was a good candidate for method books. He’s definitely not the kind to get lost in the music and go searching through volumes until you find the “perfect” piece. Frankly, he doesn’t care if he’s playing Bach or Bastien, and that’s just fine. As I said, everyone learns differently. Riley wants to continue lessons through high-school, and when he’s done, he’ll be quite good… all with method books!

Personally, here is why I don’t care for the Bastien Method Books and method books in general:
1. The student is unable to develop their own musical tastes by picking out their own pieces. These method books already have everything laid out for you.
2. My main reason (obviously): I don’t care for any of the pieces in the books. They seemed babyish and unnatural – this was associated to the fact of fitting each piece especially for the technique you were learning. They were also written in the “outer space alien” feel (or modern) which I don’t like. Definitely unable to compare with Bach or Vivaldi. I am a supporter of using real pieces to present technical difficulties to the student. Mozart and Beethoven are the most famous composers in the world for a reason. I mean, if you asked 20 people in NYC if they knew who Mozart was I think all of them would have at least a brief idea. But what if you asked if they knew who Bastien was? Not one would know, I think.

So do you see how people learn differently and enjoy diverse teaching methods? Just one more thought before we move on: I am not going to say that learning music is always going to be fun. There will be problems and errors, as in everything. But, if a student learns best a certain way then why on earth would you subject him/her to unnecessary trials?
And I apologize for the very long 1st half of my post; I didn’t mean for it to get this long! I think I may have stressed my point a bit too much. 🙂 Without further ado, let’s finally get to our main topic.



The Kodály Method was developed by Zoltan Kodály: a native of Hungary and composer. He is well known internationally as the creator of the Kodály Method. As a child, Zoltan’s father worked on a railroad; he took his family with him, thus allowing Zoltan a chance to see and hear music of the countries of Europe. Kodály was especially drawn to traditional folk music he heard while traveling. Kodály’s mother and father were musical too, although they followed a more traditional route than Zoltan; his mother enjoyed opera and his father played the violin. While he was growing up Kodály learned the violin, viola and cello.
He was a chorister in his youth at Nagyszombat (now Trnava), Czech., where he wrote his first compositions. In 1902, Zoltan studied composition in Budapest. He toured his country for the first time in a quest for folk-song sources in 1905. He took the newly invented phonograph with him to record the traditional folk music of the mountain people.  In 1906 he wrote a short thesis titled Strophic Construction in Hungarian Folksong. At this time, Kodály met Bela Bartok who became a lifelong friend and critique. (Fun Fact: My teacher’s teacher’s teacher was Bartok!) Bartok, similar to Kodály, also traveled the Hungarian countryside collecting folk songs which he later wrote down.
Kodaly didn’t receive notice for his compositions (which were a mix of what he gathered in Hungary and his own thoughts) until 1923. His most famous work is probably Dances of Galenta, which was based on a collection of folksongs he gathered in the town of Galenta (now part of Slovakia).
After studying for a short time in Paris with the composer-organist Charles Widor, Zoltan became teacher of theory and composition at the Budapest Academy of Music (1907-41).
Throughout his adult life, Kodály was very concerned about the musical education for lower grade school-classes. Beginning in 1935, along with his colleague Jenö Ádám (14 years his junior), he embarked on a long-term project to reform music teaching in Hungary’s lower and middle schools. His work resulted in the publication of several highly influential books.
The Hungarian music education program that developed in the 1940s became the basis for what is called the “Kodály Method”. While Kodály himself did not write down a comprehensive method, he did establish a set of principles to follow in music education, and these principles were widely taken up by pedagogues (above all in Hungary, but also in many other countries) after World War II.
One note, this method was developed for lower grade classes, in a classroom environment. The Kodály Method starts with the complete beginner. Following are the main points of the Kodály Method:


When a person plays an instrument he is able to “visualize” the notes, able to see what his fingers are doing. The instrument is a stable object; you can see it. However, when you sing, your instrument is inside your body. Thus, hand signs! Is it going up? Is it going down? The hand signs help (especially for a beginner) “visualize” the notes (see image).hand signals kodaly


The moveable “do” system is utilized through the use of the “do” clef. The “do” clef is simply a sign that is placed wherever the tonic of each scale is. In other words, the beginning student need not be concerned that “f” is the starting pitch in the key of F, until they are ready to have that information. It keeps things simpler for the beginner. F in F Major would simply be called “do”, as would G in G major.


The mother tongue songs are the songs that are concentrated on first; the mother tongue music is the student’s native music or the folk songs of his or her country. The melodies will already be familiar to the child, thus allowing the student to study tone development, etc.


The learning process also follows the natural developmental pattern used in learning to speak, which is: aural, written, and then read. (1st) The student will first learn to “speak” the music. The pentatonic scale is stressed during this step since it is easy to sing for beginners and many folk songs use it. Musical hand signals are mastered at this step. (2nd & 3rd) Then, the student learns to write and read the notes, though not in the normal way. Students relate pictures and hand signals with notes before actually seeing real notes. I know, this sound a little confusing; study the diagram below.   kodaly reaidng music
So there’s an overview of the Kodály Method. For more information on the Kodály Method, I encourage you to read some of Kodály’s own works. carries his books.

As I mentioned before, Kodály was a composer as well as teacher. Visit the links below to hear more of his works.

Kodály’s Solo Cello Sonata played by Jakob Koranyi

Serenade for 2 Violins and 1 Viola

Adagio for Violin and Piano

Meditation on a Motive of Claude Debussy

Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song “The Peacock”

Thanks for reading!

-Cameron S.




leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s